Long COVID: Changes in Taste and Smell
Changes in Taste and Smell
Changes (or loss of) taste and smell are very common symptoms of long COVID. They impact how well you are able to detect flavors. When you eat, your smell and taste senses work together to create the flavor of food.
Although taste and smell are closely related, you may not lose both. Some people only lose their sense of smell, but can still taste. The opposite is also true.
With long COVID (as well as with initial COVID infection in some people) you may experience different food smells and tastes. Foods may have little taste (bland) or they may taste unusually salty, sweet, or metallic). The changes often affect your appetite, desire for certain foods, and overall nutrition.
Some people with long COVID develop parosmia - when they sense normal-smelling foods as unpleasant or even disgusting. Parosmia doesn’t affect taste - you can still tell the difference between saltiness, sweetness, etc. As with other changes in taste and smell, it does influence your ability to eat and enjoy food.
Research of people with long COVID parosmia identified coffee, meat, egg, garlic, fried food, and onion as being the most frequently distorted foods. They have been described as chemical, rotten, bitter, or burnt.
Foods less likely to have distorted aromas include honey, grapefruit, melon, raw nuts, peaches, carrots, and celery, although this varies from person to person.
Coping with Change/Loss of Taste and Smell
Consider the following:
Stick with foods that taste good to you. If something doesn’t taste good, it might change in a few days or so.
Try a variety of flavors and textures (e.g crunchy, creamy, crispy, etc)
Sugar-free gum or mints may lessen any unpleasant taste that remains
Cold or room temperature foods may taste better than hot foods
To enhance the flavor of food, try adding olive oil (for healthy fat), lemon juice (for a more acidic taste), maple syrup (for more sweetness), or a dash of sea salt (for saltiness/flavor)
Specific Types of Taste Changes
If foods don’t taste right, try the following:
Add sour flavors, like lemon juice or vinegar
Use nutmeg, cinnamon, or cocoa powder in puddings, desserts, or smoothies
Add a dash of sea salt
Dilute sweetened drinks with water, ice, soda water, milk, or non-dairy alternatives
Use herbs and spices (e.g. rosemary, thyme, dill, black/white pepper, paprika, basil, etc.) instead of salt
Avoid processed and packaged foods with a lot of salt (e.g. salad dressing, deli meats/cold cuts, cheeses, breads, snacks, etc.)
Rinse canned food in water or soak overnight to lower the salt content
Try to find low sodium versions of foods (cheeses, breads, popcorn, etc.)
Try room temperature or cold foods
Add some salt, olive oil, or balsamic vinegar to cooked vegetables
Add pesto to pasta
Try including mild-tasting food like pudding, cooked cereal, custard, or milk in your diet
Marinate meat in citrus juices, wine, or vinegar
Try increasing the flavor by adding:
Fresh onion and garlic
Herbs and spices
Olives, olive spread
Choose fresh or frozen produce instead of canned foods
Add marinades such as pineapple juice, Italian dressing, lemon juice, wine, teriyaki, or soy sauce
Use plastic instead of metallic utensils
Use glass cookware and bakeware instead of metal
If beef tastes bitter:
Eat it cold or at room temperature
Have other proteins such as chicken, fish, mild cheeses, eggs, dairy products, cooked beans, nuts, or tofu
If you have leftover beef, mix it into a casserole or stew
Effective mouth care and dry mouth treatments may help with taste issues.
Brush your teeth and tongue with a soft toothbrush before and after each meal. Wait 10-15 minutes after you brush your teeth before you eat
Floss your teeth at least 1-2 times a day
Rinse your mouth. Try 1/4 tsp (1.5 g) of baking soda dissolved in 1 cup (240 mL) of room-temperature water. Swish before and after meals and snacks.
Sip on carbonated water to lessen unpleasant tastes
A dry mouth can decrease the flavor of food. Make sure you are getting enough fluids. Aim for a total of about 8 cups (1920 mL) throughout the day. The following may also help lessen a dry mouth.
Stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, sodas)
Use alcohol-free mouthwash
Try a humidifier while you sleep
Snack on frozen fruit (e.g. berries, grapes, peaches, pineapples, etc.), gelatin (Jelloʀ) and frozen fruit pops (Popsiclesʀ)
Soft moist foods are often better tolerated (e.g scrambled eggs, oatmeal, soups, yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, mashed avocado, casseroles, etc.)
Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on ice chips increases saliva
When eating, alternate between liquids and solids - i.e. take a few bites then a few sips, etc.
Drizzle olive oil, avocado, or coconut oil on foods
The changes/loss of taste and smell may cause possible safety issues. For example, you may have an increased risk of eating spoiled food or smelling fire-related smoke or gas.
Some suggestions to stay safe include the following:
Everyone handling food should wash their hands
Look for visible signs that food is spoiled (e.g. change in color, mold, etc.)
Check expiration dates
Throw refrigerated leftovers away within 3 to 4 days
Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods
Cook foods according to instructions
Store foods correctly. Mark packages or containers with dates
Smoke and Gas
Ask friends and family, including children, to be alert to smoke and gas smells.
Use smoke alarms. Make sure they’re currently working and check them at least once a month. Replace the batteries at least every 6 to 12 months.
Consider a device that detects gas leaks.
For More Information
Food Safety.gov (2022). Your Gateway to Food Safety Information accessed https://www.foodsafety.gov/ on 1-23-2022.
U.S. Fire Administration (20223). Smoke Alarm Outreach Materials accessed https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/smoke_alarms.html on 1-23-2022.